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The L Word

Margaret T. McFadden

Publication Year: 2014

In January 2004, Showtime debuted The L Word, the first prime-time commercial drama to center around lesbian characters. Over the course of six seasons, the show depicted the lives and loves of an evolving circle of friends in West Hollywood, California, and was widely read as evidence of changing social attitudes toward gay people. Building on immediate critical attention, the show reigned as Showtime's most popular for its first three seasons and earned a large and enthusiastic audience. In The L Word, author Margaret T. McFadden argues that the show is important for its subject matter, its extended and deeply literate commentary on the history of representation of lesbians in popular media, and the formal innovations it deployed to rewrite that history. McFadden shows that the program’s creators, led by executive producer Ilene Chaiken, were well aware of the assumptions and expectations that viewers would bring to it after a history of stereotypical depictions of lesbians on television. They sought to satisfy a diverse group of viewers who wanted honest and appealing portrayals of their lives while still attracting a large enough mainstream audience to make The L Word commercially viable. In five chapters, McFadden explores how the show tackled these problems of representation by using reflexivity as a strategy to make meaning, undertaking a complicitous critique of Hollywood, skillfully using a soap-drama format to draw in its audience, and ultimately creating its own complex representation of a lesbian community. While deconstructing the history of misrepresentation of lesbians, The L Word’s new modes of storytelling and new perspectives made many aspects of lesbian experience, history, and culture visible to a large audience. Fans of the show as well as readers interested in cultural studies and gay and lesbian pop cultural history will enjoy this astute volume.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Series: TV Milestones Series

Title Page, Series Page, Frontispeice, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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Introduction: Histories of Representation and Misrepresentation

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pp. 1-14

In January 2004, Showtime launched The L Word, the first prime-time commercial television drama to focus on the lives of lesbian and bisexual women. Over the course of six seasons, the program explored the deep bonds that linked the members of an evolving lesbian friendship circle, whose members live in...

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1. The Problem of Representation

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pp. 15-42

As I noted in the introduction, my central argument in this book is that The L Word demonstrates a sophisticated awareness of feminist debates about the visual representation of women and makes those debates a central theme of the program. This chapter will analyze four of...

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2. The L Word’s Reflexivity

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pp. 43-64

The L Word is committed to reflexivity as a key strategy for telling stories and making meaning. Reflexive texts draw attention to the artifices by which they seduce us into their illusions, and thus teach us to be more self-aware and critical consumers of representations. Many twentieth-century artists and...

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3. The L Word’s Complicitous Critique of Hollywood

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pp. 65-86

The L Word provides viewers with a detailed analysis of the industrial structures that have produced the systematic misrepresentation of lesbians. It offers a brutal critique of Hollywood and the people who have power in the media and entertainment industries, most of whom are portrayed as...

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4. Genre: Soap-drama and Politics

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pp. 87-98

The L Word is one of many shows in the hybrid genre that Glen Creeber has called “soap-drama.” Creeber argues that while such shows focus on the personal lives of a close-knit group of friends, using conventions of melodramatic serial narrative...

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5. Lesbian Cultures and Communities

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pp. 99-130

Another significant way that The L Word responded to Hollywood’s misrepresentation and erasure of lesbian lives was to create its own complex representation of a lesbian community, making visible many aspects of lesbian experience, history, and culture. The show’s portrait of the relationships...


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pp. 131-132

Works Cited

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pp. 133-138


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pp. 139-148

E-ISBN-13: 9780814338254
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814338247

Page Count: 152
Illustrations: 12
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: TV Milestones Series